FASTEST IN MEXICO: Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen was the fastest driver in the first free practice session for the Mexican Grand Prix. Image: AFP / Dan Istitene
Mexico City, Mexico - Dutch teenager Max Verstappen endorsed his reputation for both courage and speed on Friday when he topped the times for Toro Rosso in opening free practice for this weekend's Mexican Grand Prix.
On a track he had never seen before, the youngest driver in the field showed his peers how to attack a new circuit with a bold performance on a drying surface.
Verstappen clocked a best lap in 1min25:990 seconds to wind up fastest ahead of Russian Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull and Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari.
Read: 2015 Mexican GP - 1st Practice: As it happened
Newly-crowned three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg appeared content to bide their time and ease their way into the action.
Rosberg ended up sixth fastest, having lit a fire in his brakes earlier, while Hamilton was down in 11th, the pair keeping a low profile five days after their wheel-banging duel in Austin.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull.
After Rosberg came Valtteri Bottas of Williams, Carlos Sainz in the second Toro Rosso, local hero Sergio Perez in his Force India and Brazilian Felipe Massa in the other Williams.
First racing session in over 23 years
The session took place more than 23 years after the last F1 race at the revamped Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, a high-speed circuit built in a park in the crowded Latin American city where in 1992 Briton Nigel Mansell took victory for Williams on his way to that year's championship.
He famously passed Austrian rival Gerhard Berger round the outside of Turn 14, the spectacular Peraltada corner which has since been 'emasculated', cut in half and turned into a baseball arena through which the modern track now passes.
Read: Everything you need to know about the Mexican GP
Mansell's fans, however, will be glad to learn that the new corner complex has been named in his honour.
Ironically, on a typically damp day, the session began in wet conditions on intermediate tyres, but the circuit dried quickly and it was another obviously courageous driver 18-year-old Verstappen who clocked the first 'timed' lap of the day and then the fastest.
Fans mob Perez
He was, of course, not even born when Mansell performed his heroics at around 310km/h.
Local hero Perez, mobbed everywhere he has been in his homeland since arriving, was soon up among the fastest men before the usual suspects took over with Bottas ahead of Hamilton.
"I'm under a lot of pressure," admitted Perez. "But I like it and take it in a positive way, it gives me energy and helps me focus on my job.
"Once I put my helmet on, it is down to work and I want to do well this weekend for very obvious reasons!"
Perez's popularity and the rivalry in the Mercedes team had already given the prospect of Sunday's race a salty tang which was intensified when Vettel made clear that he intended to squeeze lemon on Rosberg's post-Texas wounds by beating him to the runners-up spot in the championship.
"It is my primary target," he said. "I want to beat Nico and I don't care much else about anything else at all."
Rosberg's reaction to his disappointment at Austin came in the heat he generated when he topped the times with half an hour remaining.
Yellow flags were waved as he went off immediately afterwards, only just stopping in front of a barrier with flames rising from his rear brakes. "Cool your brakes" was the message to Hamilton as Rosberg limped back to the pits.
As the teams gathered some early data, to understand the circuit, Kvyat and Ricciardo showed that Red Bull remained serious contenders despite their search for an engine in 2016.
First practice classification: 1. Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Toro Rosso - 1min25:990
2. Daniil Kvyat (Russia) RedBull - 1min26:295
3. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1min26:295
4. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari 1min26:886
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) RedBull - Renault 1min27:185
6. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1min27:196
7. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams-Mercedes 1min27:303
8. Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Toro Rosso - Renault 1min27:410
9. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India - Mercedes 1min27:581
10. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams-Mercedes 1min27:695
11. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1min27:723
12. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber - Ferrari 1min28:498
13. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Lotus - Mercedes 1min28:559
14. Felipe Nasr (Brazil) Sauber - Ferrari 1min28:579
15. Jolyon Palmer (Britain) Lotus - Mercedes 1min28:711
16. Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Force India - Mercedes 1min29:099
17. Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren 1min30:072
18. Alexander Rossi (U.S.) Marussia - Ferrari 1min30:619
19. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1min32:091
20. Will Stevens (Britain) Marussia - Ferrari 1min32:866